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29 science-backed tips for better sleep.

We designed this guide for parents who want to make better sleep habits, and for parents who can’t fall asleep because of stress or other issues. It has two parts:


  • Lifestyle Habits for a Good Night of Sleep
  • Sleep Aids and Hacks

Studies show that many parents are chronically sleep deprived. Sleep disorders are becoming more prevalent. It’s worse for new moms, many of whom are “dangerously exhausted” for months.

Lack of sleep puts an ultimate burden on people’s health, happiness, creativity, and productivity.

Myriad studies show that sleep deprivation puts a terrible burden on people’s health, happiness, creativity, and productivity.

Getting better sleep is one of the best things a person can do to improve their quality of life.

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The suggestions below are well-documented and supported by science. Still, you should check with your doctor before taking melatonin, magnesium or any other over-the-counter supplements. Many medications cause sleeplessness, so talk to your doctor about that too.

When to Seek Professional Help

You should see a doctor or therapist if you’re experiencing the “rule of threes”: sleeplessness that happens three times a week, keeps you awake for at least 30 minutes, and continues for at least 30 days. Read about the effectiveness of sleep therapy for serious insomnia here.

“8 hours” of sleep is a guideline, not a rule.

Even our hunter-gatherer ancestors probably didn’t sleep for eight hours straight.  Also, occasional trouble with sleep is normal. Every person truly has a unique system with its own biological clock and requirements for sleep.

Be Your Own Little Sleep Study

To improve your sleep long-term, you have to become your own little sleep study. Document the process and results of trying new sleep routines. For many people, the easiest way to do this is on their phone. (Just don’t spend too long staring at it in bed, as you’ll note below.)

Remember, Quality of Sleep > Hours of Sleep

A study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research showed that quality of sleep is farm more important than quantity of sleep when it comes to waking up refreshed.

Lifestyle Habits for a Good Night of Sleep

Get Enough Bright Outdoor Light

Multiple studies have shown that exposure to sunlight during the day helps people sleep better at night. For example, this study found that “Office workers with more light exposure at the workplace tended to have longer sleep duration and better sleep quality.”

That’s because high-intensity light (like the light from the sun) helps our bodies set and regulate a healthy circadian rhythm.

Too little bright light exposure during the day and then too much artificial light exposure throw our bodies out of sync, making it harder to experience healthy sleep.

Get Some Exercise

Multiple studies show that even moderate exercise like walking helps people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

 Don’t Bring Your Phone to Bed

This is a tough one because many of us read on our phones in bed to help us fall asleep. However, there’s ample evidence that looking at a digital screen right before bed (or in bed) disrupts sleep. This is a growing problem with a significant impact.

Update Your Caffeine Strategy 

Simply put, if you have trouble sleeping, you shouldn’t drink anything with caffeine within 6 hours of sleep. A broader recommendation is to skip caffeine entirely after 2:00 PM.

Dependent on a person’s gender and biology, the half-life of caffeine in the body is roughly 5-10 hours. But if you drink a cup of coffee at 4:30 PM, its caffeine is still with you at 10:30 PM.

The study “Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed” found that:

“The magnitude of reduction in total sleep time suggests that caffeine taken 6 hours before bedtime has important disruptive effects on sleep and provides empirical support for sleep hygiene recommendations to refrain from substantial caffeine use for a minimum of 6 hours prior to bedtime.”

More studies on caffeine and sleep. 

Caffeine can also contribute to the sleep disorder known as Restless Leg Syndrome, which is often experienced by pregnant women. In those cases, cutting caffeine entirely is recommended.

Follow Simple Eating Strategies for Better Sleep

Sleeping on a full stomach is terrible for sleep quality. It’s also terrible for your digestive system. After a meal, the stomach requires three to four hours to empty.

However, in some cases, a (small) late-night snack can help you sleep. Via Lifehacker,  The Sleep Medicine Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center explains:

“A bedtime snack can help stabilize your blood sugar levels, particular if you eat dinner early or have a very active day. That’s important because low blood sugar can keep you up at night, as well as make it difficult to wake up feeling energized the next morning. Your body needs energy, even for sleep.”

Look for simple foods that are higher in protein and fat, and avoid sugar and spicy, greasy foods that contribute to stomach acid. Skip chocolate too, since that has sugar and caffeine.

Blood levels of melatonin significantly increase after eating a banana, pineapple and orange. My grandmother told me that a couple of saltines with peanut butter would help anyone sleep, and that’s still what works for me.

Suggestions from “The Best and Worst Foods for Sleep” on Greatist include:

  • Low-fat milk and whole grain cereal
  • Peanut butter on whole wheat bread
  • Yogurt with half a banana and one tablespoon of chopped walnuts
  • Two cups plain popcorn with a drizzle of olive oil

Does eating a small snack before bed make you fat? Surprisingly the jury is out on this one. In fact, it might even help people lose weight over time.

Another tip about eating and sleep: move around a bit after you eat, so your food can start to move out of your stomach.

Reduce the Booze

Having a nightcap before bed may make you feel sleepy, but it fragments your sleep. (Alcoholics don’t have many dreams for this reason.)

Simply put, to sleep better, don’t drink alcohol.

Turn Down the Heat

Sleeping in a cool room is one of the best ways to give your body a hint that it’s time to go to bed. Indeed, being too warm is what keeps many people from falling asleep.

In this Lifehacker article, Dr. Rebecca Robbins says that 65 degrees is the optimal sleeping temperature. She also says that sleeping in a too-warm room can induce nightmares.

Can’t turn the temperature down? Stick a foot out from under the covers, as shown in this video from New York Magazine.

 Be Careful With Naps

15-25 minutes (a.k.a. catnap): Because you don’t fall into a deep sleep in this amount of time, it’s easier to hit the ground running after waking up. This short bout of sleep has been proven to help with alertness and concentration, mood elevation, and sharpening motor skills.

A study on pilots found that a 25-minute in-flight nap (while the plane is manned by a copilot of course) enhanced performance by 34 percent and overall alertness by 54 percent.

(Master the Coffee Nap)

Sleep In As Dark A Room As Possible

The presence of light (natural or artificial) in our nighttime sleeping area can have a huge influence on our ability to sleep. That’s because our bodies and brains tune into light levels to manage chemicals in our blood that regulate our sleep cycles. Exposure to room light before bedtime shortens melatonin duration by about 90 minutes compared to dim light exposure. Exposure to room light during usual hours of sleep suppresses melatonin levels by more than 50%.

Don’t Stress About Waking Up During the Night

You may have heard about second sleep. Human beings seem to be designed to wake up at night, and stay awake for an hour or more. Historian A. Roger Ekirch has documented  references to this pattern through history, up until the advent of artificial light.

If you wake up like this, don’t stress and create more sleeplessness by worrying about it. Slate notes that Clark Strand, the author of Waking Up to the Dark, suggests recognizing the value of “that nighttime interval of wakefulness,” “an hour in the middle of the night where peace was there for the having … a nightly blessing.”

More about Segmented Sleep.

Try to get to bed at the same time every night.

Just as babies and children benefit from a consistent, simple bedtime routine, so do adults. The routine is a cue that helps your mind and body begin to wind down. For many people, a consistent bedtime and time to wake up help them sleep best. The Mayo Clinic recommends this practice even on holidays and weekends.

Sleep Aids and Hacks

TLDR; melatonin, magnesium supplement, light snack, eye mask, ear plugs 

Sleepy Tea

Millions of people swear by valerian, passionflower, and chamomile tea for soothing sleep, or reach for special blends like Yogi Bedtime or Celestial Seasoning’ Sleepytime Tea.

Passionflower appears to be best-documented tea for sleep. Slate reports on a 2011 study that “sleep quality showed a significantly better rating for passionflower compared with placebo.”

However, the warmth of the tea and the process of making it can help people relax. It’s worth trying these teas to see if they help you sleep.

Take a Bath

Taking a warm bath is a great way to unwind before bed for a better nights sleep. Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that soaking in warm water daily for 8 weeks is more effective at easing anxiety than a prescription drug.

Bring a cup of tea to the bath and use lavender scented soap to combine the suggestion above and the suggestion below.

Aromatherapy

Lavander is the best-documented scent to help people get better sleep. Many people sleep with a lavendar pillow for just this reason. 

Here are other oils and scents that can help you sleep.

Put the Spouse on the Couch

If you need sleep, be honest with yourself and your partner. If they’re keeping you up at night from snoring, sweating, or stealing the blankets, it’s better for everyone if you sleep alone to get healthy sleep.

They won’t like it at night, but in the long run they’ll appreciate it.

Wear a Sleep Mask

Sleep masks aren’t just for traveling. They can help block faint light that can keep people from falling asleep without knowing about it. Even Insomnia.net recommends sleep masks.

You don’t need anything fancy. The best-selling, top-rated sleep mask on Amazon.com is just $13.00.

If It’s Safe, Wear Earplugs

Don’t wear earplugs if you’re the only one home with your kids. Some of them do their job too well, and it’s possible you’ll sleep through calls for help and other important noises.

But if you can safely be earplugs, the can help create a cocoon-like experience. Two top-rated brands for sleeping include Hearos Xtreme Protection and Hearos Ultimate Softness Earplugs.

Even Better, Play Max Richter’s “Sleep.”

“Sleep” is easily the most beautiful album made this year . . . He has made something that can comfort grief, battle insomnia and allow the body to journey to strange new places.  –  Record Review 10/15

A work of “high-class chillout music” composed on piano, organ, synthesizers, and electronics that’s meant to help people experience a beautiful night of sleep. Get all the different versions here. Read more about it on NPR here.

Want sleep-friendly headphones? Review this list on Reddit of “the best headphones to sleep in.”

“Sleep” is easily the most beautiful album made this year . . . He has made something that can comfort grief, battle insomnia and allow the body to journey to strange new places.  –  Record Review 10/15

Don’t Count Sheep, Imagine Relaxing Scenes Instead

In this study, scientists at Oxford University found that people fell asleep 20 minutes sooner when they imagined a relaxing scene vs counted sheep.

The researchers suggested that counting sheep is too boring while images are more interesting. More from the NYT.

Practice Deep Breathing

This is the practice of tracking and following breathing to let your body gradually relax. You simply intentionally redirect your attention to your breathing and your body, and you lay in bed.

This is a highly studied, well-documented method for calming mind and body.

Masturbate or Have Sex

I know this might be a bit much for some readers, but masturbation is reported to help people invoke sleep. Others say it stimulates them and keeps them up. Having sex can relax the body. It also causes the body to release of oxytocin that can promote rest.

On the other hand (heh), some people say sex or masturbation stimulates them and keeps them up. You probably know what works for you, so just do or don’t do that.

Try Magnesium Supplements

Magnesium plays a key role with sleep. WebMD notes that even a marginal lack of magnesium can prevent the brain from settling into sleep while the National Institute of Heath also notes that people in the US consistently intake less magnesium than recommended amounts.

WebMD notes that “An easy way to remember foods that are good magnesium sources is to think fiber. Foods that are high in fiber are generally high in magnesium.” Good sources include green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, and almonds.

Some people who struggle to sleep benefit from taking a 350 mg oral magnesium supplement daily, or at least 45 minutes before bed.

For example, a study on the “effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly,” researchers found that “dietary magnesium supplementation brought about statistically significant increases in sleep time.”

NIH recommends looking for the mineral in aspartate, citrate, lactate, and chloride forms, which are more bioavailable than magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate.

Take 200 milligrams of magnesium—lower the dose if it causes diarrhea—and 600 milligrams of calcium each night.

The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends taking a “B-vitamin complex along with magnesium, or a multivitamin containing B vitamins because the level of vitamin B6 in the body determines how much magnesium will be absorbed into the cells.”

Magnesium can interact with many different  medications, and too much of it can cause serious health issues. Check with your doctor before taking any supplement.

Try Melatonin

A recent Chinese study in hospitals found that patients slept best after taking a melatonin tablet and wearing an eye mask and earplugs. They also found melatonin was the most effective part of helping people sleep.

Melatonin’s  main job in the body is to regulate night and day cycles or sleep-wake cycles. Darkness causes the body to produce more melatonin, which signals the body to prepare for sleep. Light decreases melatonin  production and signals the body to prepare for being awake. Some people who have trouble sleeping have low levels of melatonin. It is thought that adding melatonin from supplements might help them sleep.

Melatonin is the only medication Canada recognizes for children: “Of the several medications studied in the treatment of insomnia in children, only melatonin is considered safe and effective for short-term use” Page on nih.gov

As such, it has minimal side effects, but no compound that can affect the brain is without risks. According to WebMD:

“Melatonin has been used safely for up to 2 years in some people. However, it can cause some side effects including a headache, short-term feelings of depression, daytime sleepiness, dizziness, stomach cramps, and irritability. Do not drive or use machinery for four to five hours after taking melatonin.” 

Individuals with medical conditions should consult their doctors before taking melatonin, and there is a concern that long-term use of melatonin in children might alter normal development.

Although some experts recommend taking higher doses, studies show that lower doses are more effective. Plus, there’s concern that too-high doses could cause toxicity as well as raise the risk of depression or infertility. Typically take 0.3 to 0.5 milligrams before bed.

Lose Weight

I know – vastly easier said than done. But in the long run, losing weight will markedly help anyone sleep. Excess weight is one of the main causes of sleep apnea.

For Severe, Prolonged Difficulty Sleeping, Try Therapy

After completing therapy, on average, patients fell asleep almost 20 minutes faster and were awake in the middle of the night almost half an hour less, the study found. And the time they spent sleeping soundly increased by nearly 10 percent.

A recent analysis published in Annals of Internal Medicine concludes that in over 20 studies of cognitive behavioral therapy in adults, therapy is consistently effective at treating insomnia.

That’s all to say…

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As a former beauty editor, I pride myself in housing the best skincare products in my bathroom. Walk in and you're sure to be greeted with purifying masks, micellar water, retinol ceramide capsules and Vitamin C serums. What can I say? Old habits die hard. But when I had my son, I was hesitant to use products on him. I wanted to keep his baby-soft skin for as long as possible, without tainting it with harsh chemicals.

Eventually, I acquiesced and began using leading brands on his sensitive skin. I immediately regretted it. His skin became dry and itchy and regardless of what I used on him, it never seemed to get better. I found myself asking, "Why don't beauty brands care about baby skin as much as they care about adult skin?"

When I had my daughter in May, I knew I had to take a different approach for her skin. Instead of using popular brands that are loaded with petroleum and parabens, I opted for cleaner products. These days I'm all about skincare that contains super-fruits (like pomegranate sterols, which are brimming with antioxidants) and sulfate-free cleansers that contain glycolipids that won't over-dry her skin. And, so far, Pipette gets it right.

What's in it

At first glance, the collection of shampoo, wipes, balm, oil and lotion looks like your typical baby line—I swear cute colors and a clean look gets me everytime—but there's one major difference: All products are environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, with ingredients derived from plants or nontoxic synthetic sources. Also, at the core of Pipette's formula is squalane, which is basically a powerhouse moisturizing ingredient that babies make in utero that helps protect their skin for the first few hours after birth. And, thanks to research, we know that squalane isn't an irritant, and is best for those with sensitive skin. Finally, a brand really considered my baby's dry skin.

Off the bat, I was most interested in the baby balm because let's be honest, can you ever have too much protection down there? After applying, I noticed it quickly absorbed into her delicate skin. No rash. No irritation. No annoyed baby. Mama was happy. It's also worth noting there wasn't any white residue left on her bottom that usually requires several wipes to remove.


Why it's different

I love that Pipette doesn't smell like an artificial baby—you, know that powdery, musky note that never actually smells like a newborn. It's fragrance free, which means I can continue to smell my daughter's natural scent that's seriously out of this world. I also enjoy that the products are lightweight, making her skin (and my fingers) feel super smooth and soft even hours after application.

The bottom line

Caring for a baby's sensitive skin isn't easy. There's so much to think about, but Pipette makes it easier for mamas who don't want to compromise on safety or sustainability. I'm obsessed, and I plan to start using the entire collection on my toddler as well. What can I say, old habits indeed die hard.

This article was sponsored by Pipette. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Military families give up so much for their country, particularly when they have small children at home. Those of us who have never witnessed this kind of sacrifice first-hand could use a reminder of it once in a while, which is just one of the reasons we're so happy to see the beautiful photoshoot Mary Chevalier arranged for her husband's return home from Afghanistan.

The photoshoot was extra special because while James Chevalier was serving a nine-month deployment, Mary gave birth to their second son, Caspian.

Getting ready to meet Dad

"During the laboring and birthing process of Caspian, I was surrounded by family, but that did not fill the void of not having my husband by my side," Mary told InsideEdition.com. "He was able to video chat during the labor and birth, but for both of us, it was not enough."

While James had yet to meet Caspian, their 3-year-old son, Gage, missed his dad a whole lot, so this homecoming was going to be a big deal for him too. That's why Mary arranged for her wedding photographer, Brittany Watson, to be with them for their reunion in Atlanta.

Gage was so happy to see his Dad 

"[He] had no idea he was going to be getting to see his daddy that day," Watson wrote on Facebook. "The family met at the Southeastern Railway Museum for Gage to go on a special train ride... little did he know, he'd be doing it with daddy!"

Watson did a beautiful job capturing the high emotions of every single family member, from Gage's surprise, to the delight on baby Caspian's face. It's no wonder her Facebook post went viral last week.

"Caspian is natural, a very happy baby, but both James and I felt like Caspian knew who his father was almost immediately," Mary told Inside Edition. "He was easily comforted by me husband right off the bat and seemed to have an instant connection. It was very emotional."

The moment this dad had been waiting for 

If we're sobbing just looking at the photos, we can't even imagine what it was like in real life.

"We are all so blessed and take so much for granted," Watson wrote. "I cannot contain the joy I feel in my heart when I look at these images, and I hope you feel it too!"


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During both of my pregnancies, I was under the care of an amazing midwife. Every time I went to her office for check-ups, I was mesmerized by the wall of photos participating in what may be the most painfully magical moment of a woman's life: giving birth. But there was a painting that always drew my attention: a woman dressed in orange, holding her newborn baby with a face that could be described as clueless. The line above the canvas read, "Now what?"

I felt like the woman in the painting as I kissed my mother goodbye when my daughter was born. She came from my native Colombia to stay with us for three months. When she left, I realized that my husband had been working as usual during those first 90 days of our new life. My baby was born on a Friday and on Monday he was back at the office. (No parental leave policy for him.)

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Now what? I thought. The quote "It takes a village to raise a child" suddenly started to hit home, literally.

After a few years in Miami, I had some friends, but it truly didn't feel like I had a village. Some were not mothers yet, most of them worked full-time and others didn't live close by. My nomad life left my best friends spread out in different places in the world. I found myself signing up for "mommy and me" classes in search of new mothers, immigrants like me, alone like me.

It seemed like a utopian dream to think about when my grandmothers became mothers. Both of them had 6 and 10 children and they were able to stay sane (or maybe not? I don't know). But at least they had family around—people cooking, offering help. There was a sense of community.

My mother and father grew up in "the village." Big families with so many children that the older siblings ended up taking care of the little ones; aunts were like second mothers and neighbors became family.

When I was about to give birth to my second baby, my sister had just had her baby girl back in Colombia. Once, she called me crying because her maternity leave was almost over. My parents live close to her, so that was a bonus. Hiring a nanny back there is more affordable. But even seeing the positive aspects of it, I wished I could have been there for her, to be each other's village.

The younger me didn't realize that when I took a plane to leave my country in search of new experiences 19 years ago, I was giving up the chance to have my loved ones close by when I became a mother. And when I say close by, I mean as in no planes involved.

It hasn't been easy, but after two kids and plenty of mommy and me classes and random conversations that became true connections, I can say I have a mini-village, a small collection of solitudes coming together to lean on each other. But for some reason, it doesn't truly feel like one of those described in the old books where women gathered to knit while breastfeeding and all the children become like siblings.

Life gets in the way, and everyone gets sucked into their own worlds. In the absence of a true village, we feel the pressure to be and do everything that once was done by a group of people. We often lose perspective of priorities because we are taking care of everything at the same time. Starting to feel sick causes anxiety and even fear because it means so many things need to happen in order for mom—especially if single—to lay down and recover while the children are taken care of. And when the children get sick, that could mean losing money for a working mother or father, because the truth is that most corporations are not designed to nurture families.

In the absence of that model of a village I long for, we tend to rely on social media to have a sense of community and feel supported. We may feel that since we are capable of doing so much—working and stay at home moms equally—perhaps we don't need help. Or quite the opposite: mom guilt kicks in and feelings of not being enough torment our night sleep. Depression and anxiety can enter the picture and just thinking about the amount of energy and time that takes to create true connections, we may often curl up in our little cocoon with our children and partners—if they are present—when they come home.

Now what? was my thought this week while driving back and forth to the pediatrician with my sick son. I can't get the virus, I have to be strong, my daughter can't get ill, my husband needs to be healthy for his work trip next week, we all need to be well for my son's fifth birthday. And so, it goes on. I texted one of my mom friends just to rant. She rants back because her son is also sick. She sent me a heart and an "I'm here if you need to talk."

I am grateful to have talked to her at that random postpartum circle when I first became a mother. She's a Latina immigrant like me and feels exactly like me. I will do it more, get out of my comfort zone and have—sometimes—awkward conversations so I can keep growing my own little village.

It may not look like the one I'd imagined, but still may allow me to be vulnerable even through a text message.

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Halloween is around the corner, but if you are like me you are still trying to figure out what to dress your family (especially the little ones), so here are some cute ideas inspired by famous characters. There's something for everyone—from cartoon lovers to ideas for the entire family!

Here are some adorable character costumes for your family:

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